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Loneliness and the Fear of Being Alone

Loneliness

Loneliness and the Fear of Being Alone

Loneliness should not be equated with a fear of being alone. Everyone has times when they are alone for situational reasons, or because they have chosen to be alone. Being alone can be experienced as positive, pleasurable, and emotionally refreshing if it is under the individual's control. Solitude is the state of being alone and secluded from other people, and often implies having made a conscious choice to be alone. Loneliness is therefore unwilling solitude.

Understanding Loneliness

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation. Loneliness is more than just the feeling of wanting company or wanting to do something with another person. Loneliness is a feeling of being cut off, disconnected, and/or alienated from other people, so that it feels difficult or even impossible to have any form of meaningful human contact. Lonely people often feel empty or hollow inside.

Being alone and lonely, and even just the fear of being alone, make many people insecure, anxious and depressed.  If you fear being alone you may become over needy of other people and feel as if you must be around people at all times.  While we all, to varying degrees, need people in our life, if you feel you must have people around all the time then this need is controlling you.

What is meant by "being alone" means different things to different people.  It is critical to evaluate what makes up your fear and to what degree this fear controls you and your behavior. For example, it is important to note if there are any social elements to the fear, is the fear related to personal violence concerns, and is the focus on one particular person or type of person rather than on the need to have another human being in close proximity.

Clinical and research evidence supports the fact that all too often one of the main reasons that both men and women get into a relationship, and then often stay in a relationship, is related to a fear of being alone.  And as any good counselor knows, a relationship that is based on fear is destined to be a very unhappy and unfulfilling relationship. Until a person can learn to enjoy their own company, they may constantly find themselves lonely or getting into relationships that are, or end up, based on fear.  All too often, people who are not comfortable with themselves unknowingly stop themselves from not only being the best person they can be but from experiencing deep levels of intimacy with others as well.

At the extreme, the fear of being alone is known by a number of names - Autophobia, Isolaphobia, and Monophobia. This fear of being alone often significantly impacts on a person's quality of life. It can cause panic attacks, keep people apart from loved ones and business associates, and play total havoc with a person's life.  Symptoms typically include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and overall feelings of dread, although everyone experiences being alone fear in their own way and may have different symptoms.

Effects of Loneliness

The effects of loneliness and the fear of being alone can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, depression, suicide, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and acute and chronic illness.  Chronic loneliness (as opposed to the normal loneliness everyone feels from time to time) can be a serious condition and has been associated with an increased risk of death from cancer as well as stroke and cardiovascular disease. People who are socially isolated also report poor sleep quality and thus have diminished restorative processes. 

What causes of loneliness and a fear of being alone?

People can experience loneliness for many reasons, and many life events are related to loneliness. Loneliness is a very common response to divorce or the breakup/loss of any important long-term relationship. In these cases it may stem both from the loss of a specific person, as well as from the withdrawal from social circles caused by the event or the associated sadness.

Loneliness can be a response to a specific situation or event, such as the death or extended absence of a loved one. Loneliness may also occur after the birth of a child, after marriage or after any minor or major life event. Loneliness can occur in marriages or similar close relationships where there is anger/resentment or a lack of "loving" communication.

The fear of being alone can be caused by by many different things. Maybe you were, or felt, abandoned at some time in life and came to associate being alone with being unloved or neglected. A fear of being alone can be directly related to lack of self-confidence and to the belief that activities cannot be enjoyed or even attempted if you are alone.

Or maybe you just never learned to be comfortable while alone. Like anything in life, what has been learned can be altered.  You can learn to be better at being alone without being lonely so that you have the choice of whether to be with others or not. And when you overcome the fear of being alone, you instantly become more independent and confident as a result.  In fact, there are many advantages to overcoming fear of loneliness. When you are alone you have time to think calmly and there is a special kind of peace you can experience only when alone. Time spent alone sometimes can also make time spent with others even more enjoyable.  Remember that being alone doesn't have to mean being lonely.

Treatment of Loneliness

The alternative to viewing loneliness and the fear of being alone as a defect or as an unalterable personality characteristic is to recognize that loneliness is something that can be changed. It is also important to know that loneliness and the fear of being alone are common experiences. According to a recent national survey, 25% of all adults experience painful loneliness at least every few weeks, and the incidence among adolescents and college students is even higher. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor "bad" in itself. Instead it should be viewed more accurately as a signal or indicator of important needs that are going unmet.

The first step is to admit that you have a problem with being alone and that you would like to feel and behave differently.  Remember, we all have strengths and weakness and hiding your weaknesses takes up more energy than it does to work to overcome them or learn to live with them.

The most frequently used form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), reality therapy and behavioral therapy.  Working with an experienced psychologist, therapist, or counselor you can learn new behavioral approaches, new relationship and communication skills, and specific techniques to help you deal with anxiety and depression.

Relaxation and stress relief techniques are frequently an accompaniment to other therapeutic approaches.  Relaxation techniques may include things like specific ways of breathing, muscle relaxation training, guided mental imagery, or soothing self-talk. Associating these relaxation techniques with being alone can help you deal with, and overcome, feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.

Medication can also be used.  While they do not "cure" the fears of being alone, they can temporarily suppress the symptoms through chemical interaction.

Another treatment for both loneliness and depression, especially in the elderly, is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy as it is more formally known. Some studies and surveys, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by volunteer and community organizations, indicate that the presence of animal companions can ease feelings of depression and loneliness.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are a number of health benefits associated with pet ownership.

Additional Information

For more information about loneliness, the fear of being alone, and other mental health issues, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 Stoploneliness.com
 Fear of being alone and relationships
 Anxietycare.org on the fear of being alone
 University of Illinois counseling center on loneliness

Would You Like Personal Assistance?

If you really want help dealing with your feelings and emotions, changing your behavior, and improving your life and the approach and office hours of typical therapists and counselors do not fit your life style or personal needs, I may have a solution.

By using very flexible office appointments, telephone consultations, email, teleconferences, and the willingness to travel and meet with you personally in your home, office, or other location, I can be available to help you anytime and anywhere.

Feel free to contact me now for your free initial consultation. Once you become an existing client, you will be given a pager number where you can reach me whenever you need.

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